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VERO BEACH, Fla. -- When Juan Pierre took the Dodgers' $44 million contract, he knew they already had a leadoff hitter in Rafael Furcal, so he wasn't surprised Thursday when manager Grady Little announced that Furcal would remain atop the batting order, followed by Pierre.
"I've done nothing to warrant that I have to bat leadoff," said Pierre. "I'm not caught up on that. I'm in the lineup. If I wasn't in the lineup, we'd be having more of a discussion.
"There are bigger things to worry about than that. Sometimes you do things for the team, like Nomar [Garciaparra] last year playing first base. I'm not in the game to have prestige. It's not an ego thing. Whatever works, works."
Right there Pierre might have given a better explanation for Little's decision than did Little. With Furcal leading off last year, the offense worked, even with a lack of power.
Furcal hit .300 with 113 runs scored and 37 stolen bases last season, his first after signing a three-year, $39 million contract with the Dodgers. Pierre, who signed a five-year contract in December, hit .292 with 87 runs scored and 58 stolen bases as the leadoff hitter for the last-place Chicago Cubs last year.
Of course, for players who rely on speed and bat control for their offensive game, there is a cachet with being a leadoff hitter that even Pierre admits.
"As a leadoff hitter, Lou Brock told me you can change the complexion of the game right off the bat," he said. "I take pride in that. That's the beauty of it."
Little was vague with his reasoning for choosing Furcal ahead of Pierre, but said he would not ask Pierre to change his approach and was intrigued with the idea of a pair of proven leadoff hitters atop his order. Several players expressed surprise with the decision, but Furcal seemed pleased.
"If we win, there's no problem where I hit," said Furcal. "We have one of the best combinations in baseball."
Furcal, a switch-hitter, has more power than Pierre and bunts less frequently. Pierre, a left-handed hitter, is more of a slap hitter and a more proficient basestealer, an aspect of his game that might be hampered with Furcal on base ahead of him.
The last time Pierre spent any considerable time batting second was 2004, when he hit .336 in 592 at-bats leading off and .263 in 80 at-bats batting second. One year earlier, he hit .346 in 52 at-bats batting second and .302 in 616 at-bats leading off.
Forgotten man I:
Perhaps no current Dodger reflects the impact of the management change than D.J. Houlton.
Houlton became a Dodger as a 2004 Rule 5 Draft pick of then-general manager Paul DePodesta, who jumped him from Double-A and kept him on the Major League club the entire 2005 season rather than offer him back to the Houston organization.
Essentially a bystander early in the 2005 season, Houlton worked his way into the rotation and made 19 starts, going 6-9 with a 5.16 ERA. But with a new management team in place last year, Houlton not only was sent to Triple-A out of Spring Training, he stayed there all season.
And a tough season it was. He went 9-11 with an ERA even higher than he had in the big leagues, 5.60.
"It was a humbling year; I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," said Houlton, who barely gets a mention in the competition for the fifth starter's job. "I won't blame the elements, but going from L.A. to Vegas, it was a real learning experience. I'm sure in management's eyes, last year was a step back for me. I struggled for two or three months for the first time in my career."
The 27-year-old Houlton, now engaged to be married, said he's altered his windup and rediscovered the curveball that brought him to the Major Leagues in the first place.
"So many times I just couldn't explain what was going on," he said of last year. "It was just something I had to go through. Maybe struggling will help in the long run. It changed my outlook. You can't take anything for granted when you're here."
Forgotten man II:
Yet another pitcher who is rarely mentioned for the fifth starter scramble is Eric Stults, yet his claim to fame is much more recent than Houlton's.
Five days after making his Major League debut as a September callup, he wound up starting a game in a pennant race against the Mets in Shea Stadium.
Stults' response was six innings of two-hit ball and his first Major League victory. Management's response, instead of clearing a spot in the rotation for Stults, was to sign free agents Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf, making it even tougher for Stults to break through than a year ago.
"That's the nature of the game," he said. "They do what they feel is best for the team and I just have to be ready when it's my turn."
Stults, 27, didn't let the Dodgers' free-agent signing spree ruin his winter. He even fired up the DVD of his victory a couple times.
"Just for fun," he said. "I was getting excited about the new season and was going through some baseball stuff and threw it in the player. It's motivation. I want to get back into games like that."
The rest of the winter was spent helping his farmer father. They have 8,000 pigs on a farm in a town that has 1,200 residents. Stults said he loads and unloads feed, drives a tractor and inoculates sick pigs.
"It gives me something to do," Stults said. "Keeps me out of trouble."
Baseball America's Top 10 prospects:
Here is the cream of the organization's Minor League crop, according to the publication: third baseman Andy La Roche, left-handed pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Scott Elbert, first baseman James Loney, second baseman Tony Abreu, shortstop Ivan DeJesus Jr., right-handed pitcher John Meloan, second baseman Blake DeWitt, third baseman Josh Bell and shortstop Preston Mattingly.
Of that group, La Roche, Elbert, Loney, Abreu and Meloan are in Major League camp. Kershaw, DeJesus, DeWitt, Bell and Mattingly are among 31 Minor Leaguers brought to early camp this week. The rest of the Minor Leaguers report March 1.